Medical marijuana bill passes North Carolina Senate, likely to stall in House

State Senate Republicans have been taking bettors by surprise lately. First, they reversed course and joined Democrats in supporting the expansion of Medicaid coverage to make affordable health care available to more low-income families.

Then, in a broad bipartisan vote on Thursday, the majority of the GOP majority in the Senate threw its weight behind a bill that would legalize medical marijuana.

Allowing patients with debilitating diseases and medical conditions to use cannabis to alleviate their suffering would bring North Carolina closer to the mainstream. More than three dozen states, the District of Columbia, and a host of US territories have legalized medical marijuana.

For State Senator Wiley Nickel, the matter is personal.

“My father died of cancer and used marijuana illegally in his last days and I would never want to deny anyone else the same opportunity to get the help they need,” said Nickel, a progressive Democrat from Wake County.

Under a bill co-sponsored by Nickel, North Carolina law would allow the use of cannabis products, including marijuana, to manage pain and other symptoms associated with serious medical conditions such as such as cancer, epilepsy, sickle cell disease and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Nickel said the bill would establish one of the strictest regulatory structures for medical marijuana in the country.

“It’s not, you know, ‘I hurt my toe’ or ‘I’m anxious, give me some medical marijuana,'” Nickel said. It will be very, very defined and very strict when it comes to people who have very legitimate medical needs”.

The bill would require patients to obtain written certification from a qualified physician and then apply for a registered medical marijuana ID card issued by the state health department.

A commission would oversee the production and supply of cannabis and regulate dispensaries. And it would be illegal to smoke or vape medical marijuana in public places or near schools and churches.

Nickel said if it were up to him, marijuana would be fully legalized in North Carolina, for medical and recreational use. But Nickel said oversight in North Carolina is critical to passing the medical marijuana measure.

“It’s the kind of language and the kind of bill that the Conservatives bring because they know it’s something that’s narrowly tailored to people who are really hurting and really need help,” he said. he explained.

Winning over Republicans in the state Senate isn’t a problem, as evidenced by Thursday’s 35-10 vote.

“‘It’s just a good bill,'” Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Bladen, Brunswick, New Hanover, Pender), one of the bill’s main sponsors, told his colleagues ahead of the vote. Thursday.

“It shows that we care about our fellow human beings and that we care about North Carolinians and that we want people to be able to legally and safely enjoy whatever time they have left,” he added.

Representatives of two conservative Christian groups spoke out against the measure at a committee meeting on Wednesday. But the big political hurdle for the legislation is the State House, where Republican Speaker Tim Moore said, without giving specific reasons, that the bill would not get a hearing, at least this session.

According to Duke University Professor of Medicine David Casarett, there is scientific evidence rooted in randomized controlled trials to support the benefits of medical marijuana for certain conditions, particularly pain and nausea.

“I think if we approach this with the honest assessment that it’s not a miracle drug, it’s not a panacea, it’s not a panacea, and it has risks,” Casarett said, ” As long as we go in with eyes wide open and an honest assessment of the potential risks and benefits, I think now is the right time.”

These risks include anxiety, paranoia and impairment. But Casarett notes that approved drugs such as opioid painkillers also carry high risks, such as addiction and respiratory depression. And a patient with severe gastrointestinal pain from Crohn’s disease or knotty joints from rheumatoid arthritis may decide with their doctor that the risks of cannabis are worth taking along with its benefits.

Casarett is Duke’s head of hospice care. His patients face life-threatening illnesses, and Casarett says 10 to 15 percent of them consider using medical marijuana. He believes the medical community and state government share responsibility for ensuring they have access to a safe, contaminant-free supply of cannabis.

“I think cannabis is in a really nice place where it offers some benefits, its risk profile is really minimal, and the legalization of medical cannabis gives patients a chance to take back control of their health and well-being” , said Casarett.

Plus, Casarett added, it’s hard to advance science if cannabis is illegal.

“So if we want to learn more and if we want to harness some of the strengths of some of the great universities here in North Carolina to advance this science, you have to bite the bullet and make it legal,” Casarett explained.

In a position statement, the American Medical Association said medical marijuana should not be legalized by state legislatures or popular referenda, but should undergo the same type of clinical trials conducted under of the federal process for new drug applications. The AMA’s position statement also stated that “Effective patient care requires the free and unimpeded exchange of information about treatment alternatives and that the discussion of such alternatives between physicians and patients should not subjugate the ‘either party to criminal sanctions’.

North Carolina already allows the use of industrial hemp products that contain less than 0.3% THC, the chemical that gets a person high.

Recent polls suggest that public support outweighs opposition to legalizing medical marijuana in North Carolina. Last year, an Elon University poll showed that 73% of respondents expressed support for the legalization of medical marijuana. That’s about the same number found in a survey in April from WRAL and SurveyUSA.

But much like Medicaid Expansion, despite bipartisan support in the Senate, the medical marijuana bill faces a deadlock in the House.

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